Click images for more details



Recent comments
Recent posts
Currently discussing

A few sites I've stumbled across recently....

Powered by Squarespace
« Catastrophe risk | Main | Wind power eases off »

Communicating the pause

Ed Hawkins, Tamsin Edwards and Doug McNeall have an article in Nature Climate Change about the way the pause/hiatus/standstill has been communicated by climate scientists. It's paywalled here, but Tamsin has blogged about the contents here, calling for communication to be a conversation rather than a lesson. This is a step forward from the way early attempts to point out the inconvenient truth were dealt with.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

Reader Comments (87)

Climate model projections have shown periods of cooling of about this length, embedded within longer-term warming, since before this pause happened.

Then why did Phil Jones say that if the pause approached 15 years we'd have to rethink the models?

Why are we told that under 2% of model runs show a pause of this length?

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

Continuing from, and, extending steveta_uk's extract from Tamsin's blog:-

"Climate model projections have shown periods of cooling of about this length, embedded within longer-term warming, since before this pause happened. But our communication of this expectation has not been good: it has been a surprise to public and journalists alike."

I guess it's been a surprise to contributors to the IPCC's assessment reports too. But she's too modest to include those with mere public & journalists.

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

While I am prepared to believe that some climate models did show the possibility of a pause or plateau in the temperature rise, I do not believe that this was accepted by climate scientists as being very likely to happen. I suspect these model runs were ignored.

I believe that the pause surprised the scientists and that they have no credible explanation. I also think that the models have now been tweaked to make the warming rate more erratic with pauses more likely.

Having said that, I strongly welcome this communication from Tamsin and colleagues but they should be aware that if too much spin is applied it could defeat their good intentions.

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

Ward says: "97% of scientists working in the subject support the principle of anthropogenic climate change"

That's rather like saying '97% of theologians believe in God'.

And as we have much discussed, most sceptics believe in the 'principle of anthropogenic climate change'. The sceptism comes into 'how much and what impact?'

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered Commenteroakwood

Some very interesting articles in this special edition - by the way, I don't think they are paywalled but you need (free) registration to the Nature site.

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Registered CommenterRuth Dixon

That hacks like Ward engage in magical conspiracy accusations to explain away a statistically inconvenient hiatus in warming is not surprising. That they are considered to be contributing something to the debate is not surprising but is disappointing.

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

The articles claim very clearly that the pause is "temporary" as if they no that for certain.

What is disappointing is that neither article mentions even the possibility that the pause indicates that climate sensitivity is lower than the models claim.

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndyL

no --> know.
Time for my senility test

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndyL

Can't criticise the paper, nor the reasonableness of the trio, but the bottom line is what will victory in the communications war look like? These are young(ish) scientists and are in a better place than the older ones who committed politically to the CAGW scare, but what do they want out of this, welcome, call for civilised discourse? If it's not to have their science challenged by rank amateurs, and who can blame them, they're going to be disappointed because what they say, and predict/project in their work is being used by others to reshape the world in their image. If they suddenly did a Volte Face they'd still be in trouble with having their science taken as read.

Their are fine climate scientists out there, many, but they're, for most, through no fault of their own, in a political quagmire, into which unfortunately, the senior members of their community have led them. It seems to me that a major problem is that in other branches of science a paper published in Nature is regarded as possibly true but needing years of empirical experimentation to get to even "possibly" true, while in clisci, for both sides a paper is proof of instant truth and needs no further verification if it suits a particular political viewpoint.

It would also help them if they stood up to the non-scientists at SkS occasionally.

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:36 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Tamsin says...

Second, climate scientists tend to show averages of many simulations, which smooths out any temporary changes in trend...

In GCM output, the individual years are not valid prediction points, it is the overall long-term trend and the level (of temperature anomaly) reached that are.

If the individual year points were valid predictions it must be because they emerge owing to underlying deterministic mechanisms operating at the annual level. Consequently, multi-year stretches should show reproducible patterns across models. Then multidecadal pauses, peaks and troughs would get re-inforced across models when you average their output.

What is seen, instead, is the opposite. The annual and multidecadal variability across models cancel one another across models and you get a smooth line. Contra Edwards, it is not the averaging that produces the 'smooth temporary trends'. The models do not carry valid information at short time-scales which is why their averaging produces a null.

Consider, readings obtained by radiosonde and satellite MSU - data obtained by two different methods of measuring temperatures. When you average them, are the annual and multi-decadal trends preserved, or do they cancel each other? Trends are preserved. Consider models, on the other hand - average a handful of them and the result is a smooth, straight line. If the average of 'x' processes showing variability (waviness) at timescale 't' is a smooth line, the variability shown by the processes is fake (i.e., not real).

Hawkins' and Edwards' graph is bunk.

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:45 AM | Registered Commentershub

Its all the fault of David Rose and the daily mail for bringing peoples attention to how crap the climate models and global warming theory actually is. Considering the billions spent on it.

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustAnotherPoster

The pause is merely an interesting feature in model divergence from reality.

Can we ask, in advance of it happening, what length period of cooling is expected by models?

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered Commenterssat

The elephant in the room here is not really how the pause is communicated but the fundamental difference between believers and sceptics.

Leaving aside the many believers who clearly have environmental, political or financial agendas, the climate scientists who have faith in their models do think that the science underpinning them is robust. Most of them were taught that the GHG effect would dominate our climate.

The sceptics believe that our climate is naturally variable and while carbon dioxide emissions may influence the climate the effect is likely to be very small. Sceptics are more likely to be swayed by observation than by faith in the scientific consensus.

The pause lends credibility to the sceptical case. The longer it continues, the more isolated the warming blip (1975-1998) will become. Perhaps the climate scientists should be advised to do less explaining and more listening.

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

From the editorial: "The response from the scientific community was to emphasise that climate change is a long-term concern, while the hiatus is a temporary phenomenon, and to highlight that natural variability has a role to play in the shorter term."
No it wasn't! For years the response was: "There is no pause!"

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterSven

Why are you all commenting here rather than leaving a comment on Tasmin's blog? The article is an appeal to have a proper discussion, so why not take that in good faith.

I have already left a comment there ("Ever heard of Occam's Razor? Oh wait, silly me, 95% of climate models agree: the observations must be wrong") I am waiting to see if that one makes it through moderation.

Feb 26, 2014 at 12:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterEd B

For goodness sake it cites Anderegg for a 97% consensus!!!

this is what a Realclimate scientist thought of Anderegg... 'appalled' (agreeing with Roger Peilke)

“Wow. Roger, you know I disagree with you on many things, but not on this. What the heck where they thinking? Even if the analysis had some validity — and from a first glance, I’m definitely not convinced it does — it’s not helpful, to put it mildly. I’m totally appalled.” (Dr Eric Steig)

Feb 26, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

oakwood: "The sceptism comes into 'how much and what impact?' "
John Nielsen-Gammon describes it as "the size of the C" -- AGW v. cAGW v. CAGW. [Also followup here.]

Feb 26, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Registered CommenterHaroldW

I'm with ssat (believe it or not).

If the models are now showing a plateau/hiatus, they should be modelling how long that is going to last, and when temperatures will start rising again.

This is a nice falsifiable forecast that we can all observe the success of.

Feb 26, 2014 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterTBYJ

Surely more of the public believe the predictions of astrologers than climate "scientist". Both have fancy misleading graphs, both make similar unsupported statements but astrologers are more convincing.

The astrologers must be winning the communication battle then.

Feb 26, 2014 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Revisionist nonsense of course. Previous cooling periods were assumed to be natural prior to 1950 plus the baseless aerosol cooling handwave from 1945-1975 (causing the equally fallacious but less hysterical ice age scare). They didn't communicate any possibility of a pause because they didn't believe it would happen, and that was because their circular-logic-based assumption about CO2 increasingly dominating the global temperature precluded the possibility of a pause. They were of course vociferous in denying any pause or possible pause for a good ten years into it. Clearly they hope we all have as conveniently faulty memories as the media seem to.

The only correct communication any scientist ever gave about this was when Hadley's Smith recently admitted in Nature that they "don't know" why the pause occurred. That is still the case and the only reason they don't know is because to admit it is all probably due to natural fluctuations is to talk down the possibility of thermageddon.

Quite why so many soft scientists and faux-greens are so pessimistic about industry's effect on the environment despite all the facts screaming at them that there is nothing much to worry about is the real question they need to ask themselves.

Feb 26, 2014 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Sounds like the climate scientists are on the case as usual. There's only one detail left for them to resolve and that's the small matter of predicting things before they happen rather than afterwards.

I know most of us trust them at their word, but predicting-in-advance would be a cherry on the top.

Feb 26, 2014 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterjaffa

Met Office – Vicky Pope strongly predicting 0.3C by 2014....
(this I think was on the back of their first decadal forecasts...)

this went into numerous government reports... 'pause light'

Feb 26, 2014 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

In the same issue there's an interesting article by Fyfe and Gillett on the mismatch between models and observations. It's a kind of response to the Kosaka and Xie paper about what would happen if the models got the eastern tropical pacific right. It includes this figure, plotting the global trend against the east pacific trend, for the models (black) and observations (red). This shows that "none of the 117 CMIP5 simulations captured the current eastern tropical Pacific cooling trend".

Regarding the global trend, only two of the 117 model runs give a trend less than the observations.

Feb 26, 2014 at 1:13 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

It is apparent from reading Tamsin's blog (agreed it is communication she is concerned with rather than the science) that climatologists are still hung up on what their models tell them.
It is encouraging to see some semblance of reality intruding with, eg, the concession that record temperatures do not necessarily mean there is no pause though to be fair to the genuine climate scientists that argument was always coming from the mouths of those with a non-scientific axe to grind. Yeo and Ward spring to mind immediately.
But still there is very little recognition that there is probably as much knowledge of maths, statistics, physics, and all the other disciplines that go to make up climatology on sceptical blogs as there is in the so-called scientific "community", and in spite of Bob (Pavlov) Ward's continuous mindless knee-jerks this side of the house does not have a vested interest in climate change not happening. Indeed as we keep on making abundantly clear, our mainstream position is that the world has warmed, that CO2 is probably having some effect in that direction, and that it would be surprising if mankind did not have an effect on his environment.
It's just that our interpretation of "the science" differs and mainly because nobody is providing convincing evidence that this is other than natural variation with some marginal assistance from humanity.
Putting a new shade of lipstick on the pig is not going to make it any less a pig. Facts are the answer; not better presented flannel.
I keep being reminded of the Labour Party bleats of 1983 (Benn to the fore) that the reason the UK elected the most right-wing government for decades was because Labour wasn't left enough. The logic escaped me then just as the logic of continuing to ignore facts, observation, and history and rely on X-Box™ science instead escapes me now.

Feb 26, 2014 at 1:20 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Barry Woods

Met Office – Vicky Pope strongly predicting 0.3C by 2014....
(this I think was on the back of their first decadal forecasts...)
Also, possibly, on the back of a fag packet?

Feb 26, 2014 at 1:22 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

on the back of this (so quite high profile advice)
News release
10 August 2007
The forecast for 2014...
Climate scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre will unveil the first decadal climate prediction model in a paper published on 10 August 2007 in the journal Science. The paper includes the Met Office's prediction for annual global temperature to 2014.

Over the 10-year period as a whole, climate continues to warm and 2014 is likely to be 0.3 °C warmer than 2004. At least half of the years after 2009 are predicted to exceed the warmest year currently on record

These predictions are very relevant to businesses and policy-makers who will be able to respond to short-term climate change when making decisions today. The next decade is within many people's understanding and brings home the reality of a changing climate.

The new model incorporates the effects of sea surface temperatures as well as other factors such as man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, projected changes in the sun's output and the effects of previous volcanic eruptions — the first time internal and external variability have both been predicted.

Team leader, Dr Doug Smith said: "Occurrences of El Nino, for example, have a significant effect on shorter-term predictions. By including such internal variability, we have shown a substantial improvement in predictions of surface temperature." Dr Smith continues: "Observed relative cooling in the Southern Ocean and tropical Pacific over the last couple of years was correctly predicted by the new system, giving us greater confidence in the model’s performance".


Total global warming, on a decadal average, is 0.8 °C since 1900 (IPCC 2007)
1998 is the current warmest year on record with a global mean temperature of 14.54 °C

Feb 26, 2014 at 1:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Why has Nature done an interview with Bob Ward whose science qualifications are small and who is a publicity officer? It shows where they are coming from.

And for that matter in all the pontificating in the Nature articles about the communication of climate science and the pause written by people who haven't done very much of it, why did they not ask David Rose or David Whitehouse to contribute? Whitehouse was I think the first person to draw attention to the pause (surely the scientific 'scoop' of the century) and being a former BBC science correspondent (and the last good one) might just know a thing or two about climate communication!

Instead we get articles from scientists who are at best amateur communicators. Just because you have been interviewed or mentioned by the press, or write a blog, doesn't make you a professional communicator Ed, Doug or Yasmin.

Feb 26, 2014 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterBced

Funny how firstly they tried to close down the debate altogether but now want to 'better communicate the message of climate change'.

You don't need to 'better communicate' anything if the facts are solidly on your side. They're losing the debate and they know it.

Feb 26, 2014 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterCheshirered

"That's rather like saying '97% of theologians believe in God'."

This is exactly right. Using percentages is an easy way to propagandize the unwashed.

I also heard that over 96% of football fans really like their football teams.


Feb 26, 2014 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterBad Andrew

From the recent APS climate seminar transcript:

DR COLLINS: "Now, I am hedging a bet because, to be honest with you, if the hiatus is still going on as of the sixth IPCC report, that report is going to have a large burden on its shoulders walking in the door, because recent literature has shown that the chances of having a hiatus of 20 years are vanishingly small."

15 years? 20 years? Ben Santers "statistical significance of trend over 17 years" line?

We know they are starting to clutch at straws. And they know that we know that...

3 years to go on the hiatus...before they have to invent another excuse.

Feb 26, 2014 at 2:10 PM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

Are computer models reliable?

Yes. Computer models are an essential
tool in understanding how the climate will
respond to changes in greenhouse gas
concentrations, and other external effects,
such as solar output and volcanoes.

Computer models are the only reliable
way to predict changes in climate. Their
reliability is tested by seeing if they are able
to reproduce the past climate, which gives
scientists confidence that they can also
predict the future.

But computer models cannot predict the
future exactly. They depend, for example, on
assumptions made about the levels of future
greenhouse gas emissions.

[Met Office publication, 2009]

Feb 26, 2014 at 2:12 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

I may be being thick here but three scientists who work for the Met Office i.e. they are paid for by taxpayers, using data that the taxpayer has paid for, publish a report that is informative and relevant to the everyday person (read taxpayer) about climate and its behind a paywall? Does this not strike you as just a little bit elitist? Is this not like a extortionate version of the Environment Agency chargeable hotline.

They really don't get it.

Feb 26, 2014 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered Commenteramoorhouse

If you are running your model in order to provide illustrations of the effect of global warming, would you not want to nip any model run in the bud if it showed some remarkable level of cooling? Recall the era of flux adjustments when the 'forcing' wheeze led to unacceptable results. I'd like to know more about what kind of automated within-run monitoring and adjustment is possible in GCMs before I take claims about their averaged results as anything other than a bad joke. In the 1970s climate models were good for a laugh. Have they now become good only for weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Feb 26, 2014 at 2:24 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Daffodils out...
Blossom on the trees...
Mowed my lawn on Monday (first time ever in February..!)...
Not had to isolate my outside tap this winter...
I reckon March will be a killer...
After all - its weather, innit..??

Feb 26, 2014 at 2:28 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Logic fail.

1. Warmists didn't predict the pause. (They predicted ever rising temp).
2. They vilified Skeptics (and some still do) for pointing out its very existence.
3. They now claim it is 'normal' and 'expected' even 'predicted' and know why it is happening (27 contradictory theories that are all true).
4. They predict it will end. Soon.

Would you buy a used car from these people?

Feb 26, 2014 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

I’ll start by admitting I’m not really sure what the average public Joe or Jane reads about the pause or climate change in general since I delve in to matter much deeper. For example, here are some things I have found:

Phil Jones from Climategate emails: “‘Bottom line: the “no upward trend” has to continue for a total of 15 years before we get worried.’”

NOAA in 2008: “Near-zero and even negative trends are common for intervals of a decade or less in the simulations, due to the model’s internal climate variability. The simulations rule out (at the 95% level) zero trends for intervals of 15 yr or more, suggesting that an observed absence of warming of this duration is needed to create a discrepancy with the expected present-day warming rate.”

Met Office in 2009: “Pauses as long as 15 years are rare in the simulations, and “we expect that [real-world] warming will resume in the next few years,” the Hadley Centre group write.”

The communications I’m expecting from climate scientists is that “pauses as long as 15 years are rare in the simulations” yet since that is happening in the real world right now they are “worried” due to a “discrepancy with the expected present-day warming rate.”

Yet, I’m not getting the “worried” message. I’m getting explanations for the pause like Kevin Trenberth saying that the pause is actually in the deep ocean (which includes things like dominant La Nina, strong trade winds, etc.). There are many other explanations like volcanic activity, optical depth (asian brown cloud), stratospheric water vapor and so on.

So I will certainly agree that communication has to be better because I'm getting many mixed messages.

Feb 26, 2014 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeC

In other news ... the Met Office has just invited tenders for a new supercomputer (estimates £105 million of which £75 million are capital costs)

Feb 26, 2014 at 2:51 PM | Registered CommenterRuth Dixon

The fact that climate scientists expend so much of the taxpayer-financed salaries fretting over how to "communicate the pause" tell you all you need to know about this as "science".

Feb 26, 2014 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterGackko

They have now come up with 9 different natural climate processes which are capable of overcoming the supposed warming from CO2. So this supposedly settled science has gone from telling us that CO2 is the one big climate driver to now telling us that CO2 is 9th in the list of drivers. As global temperatures only rose for 17 years from 1979 to 1996 and have now been flat for 17+ years 1996-2014 I take it we can all now accept that climate changes naturally and that CO2 is at worst a bit part player. The warmies are now creating their own problem because if warming does not start again they are busted, but if it does start again they will have to explain away the 9 new processes which they have invented to cover their current failure. Busted again.

Feb 26, 2014 at 3:00 PM | Unregistered Commenterivor ward

"Questions started to arise as to whether the previous message had been incorrect — was global warming not happening? This, at least, was the take of sceptics"

No! The author has fallen for a straw man. In fact, the take of most skeptical scientists is that the warming pause occurring during a period of rapidly rising CO2 suggests that the sensitivity of temperature to CO2 may be much smaller than the IPCC claims it is.

Feb 26, 2014 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid in Cal

Barry Woods,

Eric Steig had even harsher words to say about Anderegg et al at RC.

[Response: I'm sorry, but I think trying to separate the paper from the list on the web is disingenuous. I would like to see Anderegg and coauthors publicly disavow that list.--eric] -

See more at:

Feb 26, 2014 at 3:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveO

In 10 years time, it will surely be commonplace to have models hindcast the hiatus with alarming accuracy!

Maybe it will become a prerequisite for ARS(ix) (arse?) that GCM hindcasts have a nice punctuated pause, at just the right point for validation credibility.

Perhaps - even as we speak - there are small coteries of modellers slash-dotting their way to embedded, non-random 15 + year pauses in their code: "Look! We've got the hiatus bang on!"

Feb 26, 2014 at 3:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustin Ert

There is a small but dedicated community of climate scientists engaging on blogs and social media with diverse approaches to online engagement: more would be welcomed (see ref. 32 for a list of blogs by climate scientists).

Other climate-y blogs worth reading

William M.Connolley – Stoat

Steve Easterbrook – Serendipity

Roger Pielke Jr’s Blog

Eli Rabett

WOT no Bish, sorry but they cannot be serious!

Feb 26, 2014 at 4:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

"Just because it was published in Nature Climate Change, doesn't means it's complete alarmist BS propaganda... designed to cloud the debate rather than get to the truth"

.. And of course they approached top skeptics to get their input before publication and didn't give free reign to the PR agent of the big Green Hedgefund to give give his input ... oops did I get that the wrong way round ?

- They spin and distort and then they wonder why even the apathetic public doesn't trust them ? .. Futerra PR agencies "the science is settled meme" may yet turn out to be the most counterproductive PR strategy ever.

Feb 26, 2014 at 4:17 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Is Bob Ward the UK version of Peter Gleik?


Feb 26, 2014 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

@ sherlock1 2:28pm

Indeed, beware. As I recall the nastiness of the winter of 1947 mostly happened in March.

Feb 26, 2014 at 5:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Chappell

I may be being thick here but three scientists who work for the Met Office i.e. they are paid for by taxpayers, using data that the taxpayer has paid for, publish a report that is informative and relevant to the everyday person (read taxpayer) about climate and its behind a paywall? Does this not strike you as just a little bit elitist?

Well Tamsin isn't to my knowledge employed by the MO she's an academic at Bristol University (still of course paid by the tax payer). However, it's not their fault the paper is behind a paywall 97% (:-)) of the peer reviewd literature is constrained. Also for the next month the pay wall is merely a registrationwall, register at the site and see all the stuff for free.

Feb 26, 2014 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

Off topic, but important, Cameron is at it again, see this

Feb 26, 2014 at 5:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterA C Osborn


"This is a nice falsifiable forecast that we can all observe the success of"

Which is why we will never get it.

Feb 26, 2014 at 6:00 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Lord B

Connolley (stoat) is probably responsible for more disinformation (e.g. here) than all the others put together. If there's ever a truth and reconciliation committee about this, I hope they go easy on the reconciliation...

Feb 26, 2014 at 6:07 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>